From Captain Mark S. Pyle, captain of the last Pan Am revenue flight to operate worldwide:
"At one time, I subscribed to Aviation Quarterly, which was remarkable in its quality, its appreciation of aviation, and its unrelenting pursuit of excellence. It was hardbound and worthy of being perused in my favorite lounge chair as I enjoyed a sniffer of choice brandy. I was a lifetime charter member, but it is now defunct and belongs to history. Nothing is forever!
My airline now belongs to the past as surely does my aging lot of forgotten magazines. Pan American World Airways is lost -- lost to corporate ineptitude, governmental indifference, and an inability to change with the world it helped to bring together.
"It looks like a beautiful day to go flying," First Officer Robert Knox of Greensboro, N.C., said as we began our ritual of checking the weather along our route of flight. Flight 219, bound for Bridgetown, Barbados, was one hour from departure. We completed the paperwork that would ensure that the trip would meet all legal requirements for performance and weight and balance. We were more than businesslike, because CNN had reported the night before that Delta Air Lines had withdrawn its support for our newly proposed company.
On most occasions, we would have made a comment or two about sports or hobbies at a pre-departure briefing. Individuals who had not flown together before would use such small talk to break the ice of unfamiliarity.
This morning was certainly different -- an air of finality hung about everyone at our counter. The fact that it was 6 a.m. further depressed the atmospere. The engineer, Chuck Foreman of Washington, D. C., was poring over the fuel figures. He had just returned to the Boeing 727 from its much larger cousin, the jumbo B-747.
We walked briefly to our aircraft, ship No. 368, one of the newest B-727s in the fleet and quite a pleasure to fly with its more powerful engines and spirited performance. Pan Am had many B-727s, but most were older. Their engines were always adequate but would not produce the kick in the seat of this newer model. I stowed my gear in the cockpit with a feeling of quiet pride, generated by command of such a machine. I then walked aft to greet the flight attendants who would complete our ship's company on this beautiful New York morning.
Immediately, the purser raised the question of Delta's withdrawal, and my answer was the same as it would be to my cockpit crew members: "Whatever the day holds, we will make it a good trip." All agreed that it would be, whether as the first of many, as the promised "born again" Pan Am with roots in Miami, or as the last of many.
We acknowledged the pushback clearance from our ground team, or what had been our ground team. Now that they were attired in their Delta uniforms, we felt a sense of unreality as we left the gate. Our aircraft responded in its usual marvelous manner -- the engines whined to life as though longing to push onward into the promise of this cloudless morning. The ground team gave us a salute, and we were off. The navigational computer engaged, and we took our place on the runway as the final checklist items, routine with years of repetition, were completed.
As we gathered speed, I marveled at what fine engines the wonderful folks at Pratt and Whitney had provided for us. Gently, I eased the nose of this beautiful airplane skyward. The sound of rushing wind and whirring instruments added to what is always a magic moment in every pilot's life. The ground fell rapidly away, and the sky above beckoned. Both man and machine were happy to oblige. We turned away from the familiar Manhattan skyline and pointed the nose of Clipper Goodwill south -- towards Barbados.
After leveling at 31,000 feet, the routine of monitoring power plant and navigational instruments settled in. The conversation once again turned to what we felt to be the abandonment of our airline by what we had all thought was a corporate good guy. Not a visionary by any means, I had detailed my fears along these same lines from the day the agreement was finalized. "The Delta promises were necessary to cement the agreement and nothing more," I had said, and all along I had hoped I was wrong! I, like many of my friends, was not fortunate enough to transfer, or more correctly, I was not on the right airplane -- the Airbus A310. (Delta wanted only certain groups of pilots, based primarily on airplane qualification.)
We flew over Bermuda, that incredible 21-square mile piece of volcanic rock, where I had spent my last Christmas on layover. I have many happy memories of Bermuda and of other places -- all associated with destinations on what had been a world carrier. Tokyo, Seoul, Bangkok, Manila, Beijing, Berlin, Frankfurt, London, Venice, Oslo, Istanbul, and many other cities -- destinations previous Pan Am employees largely pioneered -- all hold memories for many more Pan Am employees.
Only a few puffy cumulus clouds -- airborne cotton balls -- blocked our way to Bridgetown as we began our descent. The approach along the western coast of Barbados is surreal. The island is truly a multicolored jewel set in a background of turquoise sea. We landed to the east, as the trade winds nearly always dictate, touching down 4 hours 30 minutes after our departure from New York. We taxied to the gate and shut down our engines as we had done hundreds of times before. This time there would be a difference, a notable difference! In the four and a half hours of our flight, tragic history had been made.
Pan Am ceases operations
The station manager approached as he always did and greeted the inbound passengers. He then stepped into our office (the cockpit) and greeted us cordially, explaining he had some bad news. I quickly responded that I thought we could guess the nature of his grim tidings. He produced a message from New York operations in a very familiar format. This content, however, had never before in its 64-year history been inscribed on any Pan American document. Pan Am, as of 9 a.m. on Dec. 4, 1991, had ceased operations. None of our flight attendants could restrain their emotions, or their tears. All were at least 20-year veterans with Pan American or National Airlines. They vented their disbelief and their resentment of the Delta decision; consoling them prevented those of us in the cockpit from showing our own pent-up feelings.
Our station manager asked us if we would operate the trip to Miami. He would find a way to buy fuel. Many passengers were stranded, and some Pan Am employees were packing to leave their stations and their jobs.
We informed our station manager that we would delay as long as possible. This would ensure that all those wishing to return to Miami had time to board. We waited more than two hours in mostly silent thought while the passengers gathered from their hotels and employees packed their belongings.
At one point, the local airport employees who had served Pan Am so well, and whom Pan Am had so well served, came to the aircraft. A tearful ceremony followed. Flowers and good wishes were exchanged. The local television news media requested interviews. Airport employees barraged the Clipper Goodwill for last pictures, which would adorn family scrapbooks.
At 2 p.m. EST, the wheels came up on Clipper 436, hailing from Bridgetown, Barbados, and bound for the city of Pan Am's birth. We flew with silent thought, exchanging few words as time passed. San Juan Center cleared our flight direct to Miami, and I punched in the navigational coordinates for Miami International a final time. Little could be said in the face of a solemn reality -- the certain knowledge of dead-end careers. What happened can best be described as a death in our immediate family. Pan American was my family in every sense. It was the corporate family to thousands.
The engineer interrupted my thoughts as we began our descent into Miami: "Should I call in range?"
"Yes," I said, "someone will surely still be there. The airplanes must be put to bed."
The engineer spoke again in my direction very softly, so softly I could not understand.
"Pardon me?" I said.
This veteran engineer of more than 25 years choked back tears through closed eyes. He said, "Mark, we're the last flight -- the final flight." That circumstance had not occurred to me. He continued, "They want us to make a low pass over the field."
I said, "You're kidding, right? They're joking!" Privately, I thought it might be a friend who had landed before me, now pulling my leg.
"No joke," he said, "they are going to be there to meet us -- some kind of ceremony."
Miami lay before us. A cold front had just passed, and fog followed the coastline, extending out to sea almost to the Bahamas. Miami sat on the other side of the fog bank, eerie and beautiful at the same time. Dinner Key lay nestled in the fog. My mind raced at the finality of what I was doing. This wasn't just the end of my career! This airline's fading into history far surpassed the end of any individual's career. Franklin Roosevelt had left from that same Dinner Key aboard Dixie Clipper, bound for Casablanca in 1943, the first American President to fly while in office.
Pan Am had not been just a part of history, it had made history for all of its 64 years. It was always there when the government needed it. Indeed, Pan American Clippers had many scars as mementos from encounters with enemies of the United States. From Japanese bullet holes a lumbering Clipper received as it evacuated key military personnel from Wake Island during the early stages of World War II, to the terrorist bombing of "Clipper 103." More recently Pan Am pilots and airplanes aided in Operation Desert Storm. A Pan American Clipper brought me home from Vietnam. Now Pan Am had only Clipper Goodwill and this last crew -- this final flight.
With the passengers briefed carefully as to our intentions, I called for flaps 15. We descended on the electronic glide slope that had so often guided me to Miami. We now executed the requested low pass -- my first since I left the Navy many years ago. As we flew down the centerline of Runway 12 (actually 30), I noted the lineup of American Airlines aircraft that would soon take our place. As we completed the low pass, the tower issued a final statement: "Outstanding, Clipper!"
Pulling up and turning downwind for final approach and landing, I looked at the beautiful Miami Airport and the city it serves. We all realized this would be the last time. Again, the finality of the moment slammed my senses. Our wheels touched for the last time in a Pan American aircraft -- the last time for a scheduled revenue flight of any kind for this historic airline.
Approaching the taxiway, we began to see the reception that stretched before us. Airport vehicles of every description -- police and security vehicles, port authority and fire equipment -- lined the taxiway, and video cameras abounded. Lines of individuals in semi-military formation were everywhere.
Salute to history
As we taxied past the first formations, men and women came to brisk attention and saluted "the last of the Clippers." Tears welled up in my eyes then for the first time. Many rows of people and machines -- all smartly formed -- all saluted. I returned the salute just as crisply, fully knowing that their salutes were to this "machine" and to all the "machines" that bore the title "Clipper" for 64 years. Their salute was to the history that his ship represented and to all that had gone before.
We passed the line of fire equipment, and the water cannon was fired over the aircraft. My emotions reeled under the weight of this tribute to Pan Am's last flight. I engaged the windshield wiper to clear water that was on the windscreen, but that did little good for the water in my eyes. My first officer fought back his tears. He had worn Pan Am blue for 23 years.
One final formation -- all Pan American ground personnel -- tendered their last salute. We approached the gate and set the brakes for the last time. We shut down systems for the last time and secured the faithful engines. Sadly gathering our belongings, we shook hands. Our final flight was over. No eyes in the cockpit were dry. Many of the departing passengers shared our moment of grief. The tears for Pan Am will continue.
Upon returning to my home, our 13-year old son presented me with a letter. Through his own tears, he named me Pan Am's greatest pilot. For one brief moment, on one tearful occasion, I was.
Capt. Mark S. Pyle, a former Naval Aviator, had 18 years of service with National/Pan Am. A version of this article appeared in The Miami Herald on December 20, 1991. The above article is from the June 1992 issue of Air Line Pilot, ALPA's monthly publication. Shortly after his article appeared in the Herald I contacted him and provided him with a copy of my VHS tape containing footage of Pan Am's shutdown at MIA on 12/4/91 including his flyby, landing and taxiing in to the gate, and subsequent news footage from all four of Miami's TV stations for several days after the shutdown.
Captain Pyle later became employed as a police officer in Kansas City area and loved his job according to his comments below. He is now retired on the Gulf Coast of southwest Florida. Godspeed Capt. Pyle! Thank you for recording this significant historical event in the eloquent manner that you did.
June 2, 2012: the former "Clipper Goodwill" N368PA, was destroyed in an accident in Ghana while flying cargo. Here is the news article regarding the accident that killed 12 people on the ground.
Accident: Allied Cargo B722 at Accra on Jun 2nd 2012, overran runway on landing
By Simon Hradecky, created Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 20:51Z, last updated Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 22:30Z
An Allied Air Cargo Boeing 727-200 freighter on behalf of DHL Aviation Africa, registration 5N-BJN performing flight DHV-3 from Lagos (Nigeria) to Accra (Ghana) with 4 crew, was on approach to Kotoka International Airport but overran runway 21 upon landing and came to rest near the El Wak Sports Stadium at the Hajj village at about 19:10L (19:10Z) basically in one piece. The 4 crew were taken to a local hospital but remained unhurt. 12 people on the ground, 11 occupants of a Benz 207 Bus and a soldier riding a bike along the road, have been killed, a number of injured were taken to a hospital. The aircraft received substantial damage beyond repair, all gear collapsed, the right wing was damaged due to impact with the bus, the tail plane separated from the aircraft and the tail fractured including fractures of the pressure vessel.
Ground witnesses report the aircraft broke through the perimeter fence, went across a main road colliding with an occupied bus before coming to a stop. At the accident time there was a severe thunderstorm over the city.
Airport sources reported the aircraft had been landing on runway 21 touching half way down the runway resulting in the overrun.
The airline based in Lagos (Nigeria) operates 5 Boeing 727-200 freighters.
The airport confirmed an Allied Air Cargo Boeing 727-200 arriving from Lagos overran the end of runway 21 and collided with a mini van just after 19:00L. Despite the accident the airport remained operational, all flights are on schedule.
Ghana's Civil Aviation Authority reported the aircraft tail number 5N-BJN overran runway 21 while landing and collided with a vehicle moving along Giffard Road just south of the aerodrome's perimeter fence. All occupants of the vehicle were killed. All 4 crew remained unhurt.
Accra's Kotoka International Airport features a runway 03/21 of 3400 meters/11150 feet length.
Latest available METARs:
DGAA 021800Z 17005KT 9999 FEW016 SCT031 FEW030CB 27/24 Q1013 TEMPO 5000 -TSRA BKN010
DGAA 021700Z 19009KT 9999 FEW016 FEW030CB 28/24 Q1011 TEMPO 5000 -TSRA BKN010
DGAA 021600Z 19011KT 9999 FEW012 FEW030CB 28/24 Q1011 TEMPO TS
DGAA 021500Z 19014KT 9999 SCT016 FEW030CB 30/24 Q1010 TEMPO TS
DGAA 021400Z 18012KT 9999 SCT048 FEW030CB 30/24 Q1011 NOSIG
By Mike on Monday, Jun 4th 2012 09:53Z
A question to all pilots reading this article.
Do you think it acceptable or unwise to build a sports stadium, or other capacity building housing persons, within the close vicinity of the end of an airport runway?
Kind thoughts and reasons for or against appreciated, within the context of your knowledge.
By Mike on Monday, Jun 4th 2012 09:48Z
A question to all pilots.
Do you think it wise to build a sports stadium close to the vicinity of an end to an airport runway?
Ref: African Crashes
By Jimi on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 18:48Z
Dan, that is soooo not the solution. I am an African. From Nigeria and lived in Ghana. I am an aircraft engineer and did my training abroad. There are many competent people of African origin in Aircraft engineering. If it is to solution to solve the severe lapses on our maintenance problems then it is more a case of having serious administrative structures that will ensure the necessary maintenance guidelines are followed to the last digit as they do in other parts of the world.
So, what would be your solution to the awful tro-tros in ghana and public transport called danfos in lagos?? We call import European mechanics for them as well??? Its about time we get our acts right and believe in ourselves. Engineering is NOT a miracle!!!
By Dan on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 18:38Z
Is it not time to stop selling aircrafts to Africa, new or old.
Let the two (2) good aircompanies Ethiopian and South African take over all African flights together with safe european companies.
By Curious on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 16:44Z
I really want to know why the vertical got that way. Can't tell from pics, was reverse deployed?
By Carmelo on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 15:33Z
Alitalia MD82's are kept in perfect shape and pilots are experienced. Furthermore, safety doesn't lie as much in a/c age, but rather in their maintenance, that is state of the art.
Your speculations about board service are a matter of opinion, and I simply and totally disagree with your evaluation.
By Mark S. Pyle on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 13:46Z
Well, the ole girl made it a long way after it's last flight for Pan Am. 22 years.... I have to admit that I am surprised. An inglorious end not withstanding... I am happy to hear she was still in the air that long.
Thanks to Don Boyd for looping me in on this. God Bless.
Captain Mark S. Pyle
"The Last Clipper"
December 4th, 1991
By JP on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 12:03Z
Accra RWY 21 has ILS available and it seems to be the only published approach procedure for this RWY, so it should be used during accident approach.
It is now unserviceable according to NOTAM - clearly understandable after excursion...
By eirelad on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 11:18Z
Please everybody stop speculating!! nobody can know for sure why this plane crashed beyond the runway length. How do you know if an engine failure didnt occur? or the tires burst upon landing? and also it is only a witness that said it landed half way down the runway length! A large amount of times witnesses can be wrong and other times they can provide valuable information. Just let the investigators do their work and stop speculating when you dont know the facts...it really grinds my gears and also show a little respect to the deceased! RIP
By Certosino on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 10:59Z
None of the 17 MD-80 still active has more than 22 years.
I don't agreed with your opinion about Alitalia... but this is one another story.
RIP the victims and the old glorious bird
By Jimi on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 09:09Z
Why dont we all just wait for proper investigations and reports before we plaster cyber space with all kinds of semi-conscious opinions.
By skyman on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 09:04Z
I flew this exeptional plane as well for 1200 hrs, lot of sectors in E.U. major cargo company, never had any trouble. The B727 landing and stoping capabilities are huge, basicaly she's designed to operate on short fields. DGAA runway 21 has a long displaced treshold usable for T/O (back-track) witch is a bonus for a visual app and landind. I did it with an A300B4 at MLW, still a lot of runway in front of me when I turned out. This kind of landing passed runway midpoint, should trigger immidiatly a go-around. Poor cockpit management (CRM), poor company safety culture program and/or poor training and follow-up.
By 757Driver on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 04:38Z
RIP to those that perish and RIP to a wonderful airplane as well. Age has nothing to do with safety if the upkeep is done. If my company brought it's 727 fleet back from the dead I would bid into a F/O seat if I had to just to get back into it. Best airplane I have ever flown and by luck of the lord and my grey hair, I have flown a good number of types in my life.
Don't Blame the Airplane
By Jack Ellis on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 01:31Z
Folks, don't blame the airplane, at least not yet. 727-200s used to routinely land on runways half the length of Runway 3/21 at Accra. There's more here than we know.
By marc40ca on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 00:26Z
To see how bad the media's reporting of such instaces can be, one has to look no further than the CBC's report.
They say the plane was attempting to take off not landing.
Needless to say the AV was given as a link when I posted that the story was incorrect.
final approach at runway 21 or 3
By jorge dias on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 00:15Z
the airplane has tryied land on runway 21 or runway 3 ???
By notaperfectpilot on Sunday, Jun 3rd 2012 00:07Z
I wonder if it had to do with the thunderstorm and rain on the runway. Like braking action being poor? Or partial brake failure....they REALLY went over that runway!
By (anonymous) on Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 23:57Z
I realize this is slightly off-topic, but 2 or 3 days ago, the American Quiz Show "Jeopardy!" Final question was in the category AIRLINE HISTORY.
The clue was (paraphrased_ The Clipper Goodwill flew the last flight of this airline from Barbados to Miami on December 4, 1991.
Ironically I watched the DVR of the program only 20 or so minute ago, and ten I logged on here and read the news of this accident.
By Joe on Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 23:44Z
@ Isaac S. Thomas
You obviously know not what you talk about. Best to not say anything than show your ignorance on the subject of aircraft operations and performance and crews.
Obviously the crew was competent and not trying to commit suicide by landing long down the runway. Don't forget the pilots are always first at the scene of an accident and in a very compromising position of getting hurt or worse. Mistakes are made and accidents happen in all forms of transportation, but none are less forgiving than the dynamics involved in aircraft operations.
By Joe on Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 23:37Z
I checked out the previous FAA registration for this aircraft, and you're right that it flew the very last Pan Am flight in 1991 from Grantly Adams Airport in Barbados to Miami and was met at the airport with a water salute from the fire trucks as a tribute to the Pan Am legacy. Should have been placed in a museum somewhere.
Senior Captain's Fault
By Isaac S.Thomas on Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 23:31Z
- Was the Senior Captain Asleep on the final approach that he lost sight of how many knots he was doing?
- Was he unfamiliar with the airport's runway at 21?
- This had nothing to do with the aircraft, it was a Senior Captain's error to descend at a midpoint of the runway.
- Why is the crew blaming their mistake on the weather? Didn't they ask ATC for weather stats before the final approach?
- They could have been spared if it was even crosswind landing..
Doing about 190KT on the final leg...SMH
- +1 Eli, something needs to be done about these 1963 727-200 series still in operation.
The Senior Captain just caused us 11 citizens. Oh Ghana my motherland!!
Must land immediately?
By Dave FE on Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 23:12Z
I don't know of any aircraft which can think & make it's own decision to land half way along the runway during severe CB activity. If so that might be cause to question it's age. What was the crew immediacy or urgency in landing? Low on fuel?
By James on Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 22:40Z
Sean, am really on unhappy to hear you say that the "only fatalities". To lost One live means a lot hence you could have use an appropriated phase to tell the world about our people that lost their lives tonight.
By Derek on Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 22:04Z
Unless I'm mistaken, this plane was once known as N368PA and operated Pan Am's last scheduled passenger flight.
By Sean Mendis on Saturday, Jun 2nd 2012 21:35Z
The aircraft actually overran on landing from Lagos on runway 21. It went through the perimeter wall at the 03 end of the runway, crossed the street and ended up in the stadium parking lot. The crew have all survived without critical injuries. The only fatalities (10 confirmed so far) are in a bus on the ground. The hull appears to be pretty much intact when I drove by there about 2 hours after the accident. The airport is back to normal operations.